DMA Program Information

The following general information and policies apply to all Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) students in the Bienen School of Music.

Degree Requirements Top

The DMA degree requires the satisfactory completion of at least 18 units of graduate coursework. Most courses within the Bienen School of Music at the 300 to 500 level are acceptable for degree credit. Courses outside of the Bienen School of Music or below the 300 level do not count toward the minimum 18 units required for the degree.

See Requirements by Program:

Piano Performance
Piano Performance and Pedagogy
String Performance
Voice and Opera Performance
Wind and Percussion Performance

Course of Study Top

Download DMA Timeline


The DMA requires two years of full-time study with at least three consecutive quarters of registration. Because of the limitation of available acceptable courses, summer registrations are generally not accepted as part of the residency requirement. All coursework must be completed prior to continuation, including all required courses and removal of any incomplete coursework grades.

Program Length

Students must complete all degree requirements for the DMA by the spring of the seventh year of registration in the program. Students who do not complete the requirements by the established deadline are placed on academic probation. Students who have already established candidacy for the degree may petition for an extension of up to one year, until August 31 of the eighth year. Students requesting an extension should submit the below for review to Graduate Services.

  • The petition outlining both the reason(s) for the extension, and a specific plan to complete all requirements within the extension period;
  • A letter of support for the extension from the student’s applied lessons professor.

Progress Review Top

Faculty and Graduate Services review each DMA student for satisfactory progress at the conclusion of the first year of study. Student progress is evaluated based on the successful completion of coursework, including writing competency, success in applied study and recital presentation, and progress toward degree completion.

Under extreme circumstances, students may be dismissed from the program of study should their work be well below expectations at the conclusion of the first year of study.

Continuation Top

Following the completion of all required courses, and satisfying any incomplete grades, DMA students enter continuation. Continuation ensures students maintain an active status, allowing them to defer all federal loans, use University services (library, concert hall, fitness center, etc.), have access to their committee members, and maintain eligibility for student health insurance.

Students are registered for continuation on a quarterly basis by Graduate Services, excluding summer quarter, until the completion of the degree.

Student Responsibilities for Continuation

During continuation, students must –

  • clear any registration holds prior to the start of the registration period.
  • pay continuation registration fees by the billing deadline.
  • check their University email on a regular basis. 
  • maintain health insurance as required by all degree-seeking students at Northwestern University. Students may enroll in NU-SHIP, the student health insurance plan, or provide the Student Health Insurance Office of proof of comparable health insurance coverage by the deadline. For additional information and questions about health insurance, please contact the Student Health Insurance Office.

Advisory Committee Top

DMA students must form an advisory committee prior to attempting Part One of the Qualifying Exams.

The committee consists of at least two faculty members: the chair (the student’s applied lessons professor) and a member from the student’s program (i.e., strings, voice, piano, etc.). Upon approval from the committee chair, the second committee member may be a member of the Music Studies faculty instead. 

When the Lecture Recital and Performance Document (75 pages) or the Major Research Document (100 pages) are selected as the Final Project, a third committee member is required. This third committee member must be from the Music Studies faculty. 

Committee Chair: The student’s applied lessons professor. The committee chair provides guidance and feedback on all degree requirements including course selection, recital presentation, the Qualifying Exam process, and appropriate topics for the Final Project. They create and administer the Written Performance Area Exam, and attend the Oral Exam, final defense, and all recitals. They serve as a reader, and provide guidance and feedback on the prospectus and the Final Project document. 

Committee Member: A faculty member from the student’s program (i.e., strings, voice, piano, etc). This member attends the Oral Exam, final defense, and all recitals. They serve as a reader, and provide guidance and feedback on the prospectus and Final Project document. 

Music Studies Member: A faculty member with whom the student has taken courses, and/or who has expertise the subject area of the student’s intended research. This member attends the Oral Exam, final defense, and all recitals. They serve as a reader, and provide guidance and feedback on the prospectus and the Final Project document. 

Admission to Candidacy Top

Students must achieve candidacy by the spring of the fourth year of registration. Students who do not achieve candidacy by deadline are placed on academic probation for failing to make satisfactory academic progress.

Candidacy is established by –

Application for Degree Top

Students receive the online Petition to Graduate form via email from Graduate Services at the beginning of each quarter. Students anticipating the completion of all degree requirements should submit the form for the quarter of graduation. Students completing their degree program in summer, fall, or winter quarter are eligible to participate in the following year’s June commencement and convocation exercises.